Mount Airy’s usual frigid February temperatures gave way to a balmy evening on Friday that provided the final touch in transforming the Granite City into New Orleans’ French Quarter for the night.
The Columbiettes of Holy Angels Catholic Church go all out every year to turn their parish hall into a little bit of Bourbon Street but this year even the weather cooperated. It was warmer in Mount Airy than it was in New Orleans.
The Columbiettes have been putting on a Mardi Gras party for many years — so many in fact — that is unclear just how many. The Columbiettes first president, Jeanette Kilen, says it’s been at least 12. She said this year’s turnout was about the same as that of recent years. She added, “We’ve got a lot of takeout this year.”
Over the years, the event has evolved into the Columbiettes major fund raiser for the year. The Columbiettes are the women’s auxiliary to the Knights of Columbus and use the money raised for charitable and community projects, including the Legacy Center, local food pantries, individuals in need and other charitable causes in Mount Airy and Surry County.
New Orleans native and current Mount Airy resident Adreann Belle keeps things as authentic to her homeland as possible with New Orleans specialties like gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice on the dinner menu. All of the Columbiettes pitch in to give their guests an enjoyable party experience, cooking and decorating up a storm.
Many guests get into the spirit by arriving masked. The favored colors of Mardi Gras, purple, gold and green, are very much in evidence. Some guests practice the New Orleans custom of kicking things up a notch by wearing outlandish costumes. This year Gary Shaw channeled the energy of “Fat Tuesday” itself by spending the evening in an enormous inflatable fat suit, complete with sumo belt and fake furry chest.
Sadly, Shaw’s costume prevented him from enjoying the fine food on offer as it pushed up and covered his face when he sat down.
Melva Houston served as master of music for the evening and as the dinner plates were cleared, switched it up from soft jazz to rollicking Dixieland and R&B, with just enough ’70s disco to get the crowd moving.
Mardi Gras would not be Mardi Gras without a parade and Holy Angels did not disappoint in this area, either. Don Belle served as master of ceremonies and led the parade, followed closely by a float that contained a bust of Elvis and a wagon load of sparkle and glitz. Party-goers followed the float, dancing around the room waving handkerchiefs of purple, gold and green. Carol Graham of Pilot Mountain was enjoying her first time at the event. “So far, it’s nice,” she said, as she posed for a picture with Gary Shaw in his fat suit, laughing all the while.
Ultimately, a dozen New Orleans King cakes were served, baked by Theresa Hutton and Michelle Gilley. Lucky guests found babies in their cake and turned traded them in for door prizes. In this regard, Mount Airy differs from New Orleans. The recipient of the baby in New Orleans is required to throw the next party or provide the next cake.
After the hearty dinner and King cake, Jeanette Kilen says, “If you’re not full when you leave here, it’s your own fault.”
As today, Ash Wednesday, ushers in the 40 days of Lent when Christians traditionally fast and prepare spiritually for the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, the quietness is especially welcome to those who have utilized carnival season for the fun and frolic that is inappropriate during the next 40 days.
The 130 or so people dancing the night away at Holy Angels on Friday are probably among those welcoming the chance to get some rest.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.